I had one of those wake up at 4 am, brain churning and raring to go mornings. I have no idea why. Usually when that happens, there’s something going on up there that’s trying to get out and some writing helps free up whatever the psychological issue is that’s rattling around the darker recesses of my brain. But whatever it is seems to be eluding me this morning. I’ve started this piece a couple of different times and it’s petered out after a paragraph or two. Am I approaching writers block after vomiting up three volumes over the last couple of years? Is a return to more normal social patterns taking energies that were going into writing when life was more isolated?
The conversations among the family when I was back in Seattle for birthday weekend centered around this being a time of transition. The political and social upheavals fueled by the pandemic and other recent events are rolling over my generation of the family in profound ways. For myself, I am having to consider retirement and what my legacy to the world of geriatric medicine is going to be. I know I’ve touched a lot of lives, inspired a few people to make career shifts this general direction, built better ways of handling older people into our local health systems but is there anything I can do to ensure that this work survives my day to day presence and constant attention? Do I phase in retirement over a few years slowly reducing responsibilities or do I just walk out the door and not look back? Will my financial plans actually work in a world where congress keeps threatening to torpedo the world economic system in a fit of pique as the most extreme (and ignorant) elements are given outsize platforms for media ratings? Do I continue to function as a physician in retirement (which will mean figuring out things like licensure and malpractice insurance without a large institution behind me)?
My brother, six years younger, retired early last year after thirty years of teaching high school English and is now working as a paid soccer coach for the high school premiere leagues in Washington. He seems happy. His athlete’s body will probably hold up to this for a decade or so but is it enough? My sister in law sold her athletic wear company she had built over the last fifteen years or so. The changes of the pandemic on retail made her feel it was the right time to get out. My first cousins who are quasi siblings are dealing with elder caregiving issues, adolescent children and empty nest syndrome, career changes, and all of the other issues that come with middle age. My sister, who moved her tattoo business to a home studio a year or so before the pandemic, seems to be moving serenely through life but she has been coping with some extended family eldercare issues which are rattling her usual nonchalance.
Perhaps this is the new norm for those of us in the middle age of the 50s and 60s. The trends towards later childbearing, divorce/remarriage and expanding family networks, fewer children to support aging parents, natural processes of aging leading to body betrayal, financial strains of higher education for the younger generation and care for the elder, and continued political uncertainties are pushing all of us in the late boom/generation Jones/early generation X into feelings of things are in a state of flux. Personally, I don’t do well with unknowns when it comes to change. I’m fine when I can see the path ahead or the other shore coming closer but when it’s all terra incognita out there, I tend to start futurizing and the anxiety level starts to increase and that’s never good.
So I guess I better hold on to the vague certainties in life. I have enough money to meet this month’s bills. I’ve more or less been told by my employers that I have a job for as long as I want to work. I am off to London for a week next month with good company (and a few theater tickets are bought). Rosy fingered dawn is showing outside my bedroom window so the sun is coming up again as it has for eons. I can hear Binx busily clawing away at the living room couch as he does daily. No matter how many scratching toys I provide, he prefers the furniture. There will be people in my waiting room this morning whom I will be able to make feel better by putting on my doctor persona and giving them some basic information that will help them cope better with the problems of aging.
As for all those existential issues and problems out there. I can’t fix them. I really should stop worrying about them. I need to focus on the little bits that I can do… Calling my legislators about particularly heinous bills pending in the statehouse, a few well directed dollars to economically troubled arts organizations, being there for a friend, a little self care (something I’m not especially good at). And perhaps that will give me the spurt of energy I need to complete a few projects this weekend to help with my own transitions.
3 thoughts on “May 19, 2023”
Great article! It’s interesting to hear about the struggles of transitioning into retirement and how it affects personal legacy and finances. Have you found any strategies or resources to navigate these challenges that you would recommend to others facing similar situations?
Nothing specific. I think we are all such individuals with such different circumstances that any source that pretends that retirement advice is one size fits all is doomed to fail. I have a financial advisor, I listen to older friends. I trust my instincts.
Alas no, I think it remains one of those things we must all muddle through on our own as unique individuals.